July 15, 2013
By: John Flynn Rooney
A Chicago-based organization that supports court-related alternative dispute resolution programs became a nonprofit entity with pro bono help from lawyers at two law firms.
Resolution Systems Institute (RSI) became an independent organization July 1. For the previous 18 years, RSI operated as an affiliate of the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in Chicago.
In 2012, RSI and CCR officials began discussions and agreed RSI had its own vision of what it wanted to do, said Morton Denlow, president of RSI's board of directors.
"Our vision, I think, is more national in scope and we support the leading website that deals with ADR," Denlow said.
"We perform consulting services to courts and others on how to create court-related ADR systems. I think CCR is more into delivering ADR services and they train mediators and perform mediation sessions in Cook County."
RSI does not provide mediators.
"It was a very friendly separation from CCR in terms of creating the (new) corporation," Denlow said. "They have been helpful to us over the years and we very much appreciate it."
RSI will continue leasing office space with CCR for at least the next year at 11 E. Adams St.
"We look forward to a continued and cooperative relationship," said Jacqueline Stanley Lustig, president of CCR's board of directors. "I certainly hope we can collaborate on projects."
When RSI began considering becoming independent, it applied to The Law Project of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Inc. to seek pro bono assistance.
The Law Project matched RSI with lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Seyfarth, Shaw LLP.
Denlow estimated that the two law firms provided RSI with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lawyers' pro bono time.
"They literally treated us like a billion-dollar client even though we are a small not for profit," Denlow said.
Rene Ghadimi, counsel at Skadden, led a group of about six lawyers at the firm in handling incorporation, filing for tax-exempt status and the separation agreement.
Skadden lawyers spent about 455 pro bono hours so far working on RSI matters, Ghadimi said.
Ghadimi said he was gratified by his work with RSI.
"I'm a corporate finance lawyer, so it's good to do some basic nuts-and-bolts legal work in advising basically a startup and addressing all the different aspects from leasing … to the tax issues," he said.
In October, Skadden lawyers filed an application on RSI's behalf with the IRS for so-called 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit That application remains pending.
"I would say probably the most challenging (part) was the application to the IRS in terms of the delays and timing and the impact that has on other aspects of the transaction," Ghadimi said.
Other Skadden lawyers who worked on RSI matters include Sarah E.S. Ralph, William S. Friedman, Lance J. Phillips and Christine M. Szafranski.
Marc R. Jacobs, a Seyfarth partner and chair of its Chicago office pro bono committee, and Ashley Choren Workman, an associate, worked on employment matters for RSI.
Jacobs and Workman provided about 75 hours of pro bono time to RSI, Jacobs said. Those lawyers helped RSI develop a human resources policy and an employee handbook.
RSI consists of four employees but expects to grow to eight by year's end, said Susan M. Yates, RSI's executive director.
Jacobs said doing pro bono work allows him to use his years of legal experience to give back to the community.
"But with this project in particular, it really gave me a chance to counsel essentially a startup organization in developing employment protocols to help them be successful in the future," Jacobs said.
The pro bono assistance from Skadden and Seyfarth "meant that we could have a smooth transition to become a separate independent entity and not worry about whether we could afford to do it," Denlow said.
CCR also received pro bono help from Sidley, Austin LLP with legal work involving the separation agreement and related matters, Lustig said.
Several Sidley, Austin lawyers, led by partner Richard W. Astle, did 155 pro bono hours of work for CCR, Lustig said.